Thursday, September 20, 2007
Interview with Patrick Harr, CEO of Nirvanix
San Diego-based Nirvanix (www.nirvanix.com) recently raised a round of venture capital from Mission Ventures, Valhalla, and Windward Ventures, for its online storage services. The firm is looking to provide outsourced data storage services to businesses, is focusing on the digital media area, and competes head to head against Amazon's S3 storage services. To get some color on the funding, how the firm's service compares to Amazon, and to learn more about the company's team, we spoke to Patrick Harr, the firm's CEO, about the service. Patrick spoke to Ben Kuo.
What's the idea behind Nirvanix?Patrick Harr: The idea for the company is really based off the confluence of trends that we saw. One, was the significant and explosive growth in digital media content, in particular around user generated content. According to IDC, 75 percent of all data generated in 3 years will be user generated. Two, was a significant shift in the enterprise and business mindset of having to do everything themselves. With user generated content, there was a shift in ownership of where that data needed to reside, which means there was more trust in moving the data outside of the four walls of the enterprise to outsourced providers like Nirvanix. Finally, as in any great market opportunity, we saw the success in Amazon's S3 web services--frankly, Amazon is a great company, and they've had great success with developers--however, we also saw many shortcomings with the service they were offering. We felt we could offer much greater service, particularly around media storage, and to service the market opportunity around user-generated content.
You mention the obvious comparisons to Amazon -- why would someone use you instead?
Patrick Harr: There's four key fundamental differences between us and Amazon S3. First, we are a true file system--our core IP is an Internet media file system, a clustered file system like you'd get from an Isilon, Panasas, or Spinnaker. There's a fundamental advantage in the file system itself. From a developer's standpoint, you don't need to develop the file system logic. Amazon's just a big disk drive in the sky. With Nirvanix, you not only can do operations like read, write, and delete, you can also copy, tag, and do base file system functionality, and advanced functionality as well. Because it is a clustered file system, it has inherently better performance than in the Amazon case. We can do several things characteristic of clustered file systems -- intra-node balancing, which effectively load balances if the popularity of a file becomes great--for example, if your YouTube video becomes popular in the world. You want that ability to do that load balancing, not only in that node, but between nodes on a geographic location basis. So that's one key aspect, we're a true file system.
The other key aspect is we are media optimized. We allow you to store extremely large files, up to 256GB, in the file system, where Amazon caps out at5GB. As we see the transition from analog, to digital, to HD, file sizes are getting bigger and bigger, therefore putting more stress on the file system. The second aspect on the media is advanced media processing and transcoding. We have the ability to transcode one file type to another. That's important from a development standpoint, if you want to convert from video on an HD television to a cell phone. You need to convert the file format, and downsample the resolution. You can do that in our file system as well, in addition to doing HTTP streaming, thumbnail extraction, and other services specifically targeting media applications. That's the second key aspect.
The third is we guarantee a service provider 99.9% uptime. That's our base service level. We will also be offering advanced uptime above and beyond that. That will be offered at our 18 cents, which is a slight premium to Amazon's 14 cents, but you get that guarantee plus advanced functionality. Finally, we offer 24/7 live customer support, and if you have an issue you can contact our developer support reps and walk through the process, or even if you have a simple billing question you can call us. You can't do that in the Amazon case. There are many more technical capabilities we provide, those are really only the highlights.
What are you going to use this latest VC round for?
Patrick Harr: It's a good question. There are two fundamental areas to expand with the venture capital we've raise. One, I highlighted our core node architecture--it is effectively much like a content delivery network. We are going to be placing storage nodes with large storage capacity and media processing capacity around the world. That will allow you to intelligently move uploads, downloads, and trancoding processes closest to the application for the best performance and response time and best user experience. For example, if you are living in Australia, it doesn't make sense to do an upload to Seattle. You'd want to do an upload or download closest to you. You'd be better served in Asia than in the U.S. We will be expanding our footprint with this round, building out our storage delivery network. We're also expanding out our sales and marketing teams, so people know about our advantages, and also to develop direct relationships in selling and building applications.
I hear you have some customers already using the service?
Patrick Harr: We currently have over forty beta customers. We are in beta now, and will be until the end of the month. They include some very large media application providers, which I can't name at this juncture. One has more than 3 million users, there are many new Web 2.0 companies building either social networking applications, video sharing applications, and photo sharing applications. One of my beta customers is building an equivalent of Flickr for India. They run the gamut from large to small. This also runs in a traditional archival space, we also have business customers looking for high performance, persistent storage which is very economical. I understand the technology came from Streamload, what's the relationship there?
Patrick Harr: The genesis of the file system came from Streamload. It's more about the lessons learned into storing and managing a petabyte of digital media storage. The genesis of Streamload came out of research grants at Pomona College. We took the lessons learned there, and also incorporated new techniques that my team--which came from EMC, Brocade, McData, Cacheflow, and Yahoo--incorporated around digital media.
You mention a lot of folks with storage experience. What's the background on the team?
Patrick Harr: We have storage industry veterans--people out of EMC on the development side, from Yahoo on the business development side, Brocade on the product management side--there someone who build requirements around distributed storage and networking as well. Myself, and Geoff Tudors have background in storage security and content delivery networking. Geoff 's side is broadband networking. We've got different skill sets, optimizing and delivering the platform for these types of applications. We've also secured funding from two leading venture capitalists--Mission Ventures, the largest venture capital investor in San Diego and Southern California--they've had significant experience with Sandpiper/Digital Island, the largest content delivery provider in their particular market space. So we're drawing from that knowledge base. The new lead is Valhalla, which has strong investments in storage, including LeftHand and Sepaton. Our team, coupled with our investors, are a strength of ours. I'd also like to point out that Windward Ventures, which was the initial investor, also added tremendous expertise to draw from and to go forward with.